Brittany Ross snagged gold at the World Skills Americas competition in the Restaurant Services category last November. This was an amazing accomplishment for the 20-year-old Assiniboine Community College graduate who had to compete in a foreign world.
“When we got to Brazil we discovered that we were competing in an ‘old world’ environment and I have been trained for the ‘new world’,” says Brittany describing an unexpected twist in the event, which was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Participants were required to perform a wide variety of tasks, while maintaining nerves and composure in a competition venue that had 40,000 spectators over the course of four days.
This didn’t pose a huge problem for the accomplished student though she describes the protocols she was expected to be judged on as “prim and proper” and “old school”. Minor differences are found in table etiquette and small ways of doing things such as the location where the wine is uncorked. The biggest difference between the two worlds is the way serving staff interacts with the patrons. Old world encourages very little or no interaction, whereas the new world focuses on hospitality and customer service.
“Yes, it was challenging. It takes a lot of practice to ensure we get things right,” says the 20-year-old of her experience. “The table service and standing with the right posture with all 10 judges wandering around the room studying you — that was a lot of pressure.”
“There is a high level of subjectivity in the restaurant service competition. The competitors were being judged by people who have their own diverse opinions of what is acceptable and not acceptable,” says Brittany’s ACC instructor and coach Kyle Zalluski. “The competitive advantage was that Brittany recognized that she occasionally had to change her approach to a task, often on the fly, due to the interpretation of what the judges were looking for. Brittany never stumbled and she expressed a great deal of confidence.”
To keep calm and eliminate stress during the competition, Brittany was in touch with her family daily and spent her time relaxing. Along with coach Zalluski, she tried not to think or talk too much about the event. Their strategy paid off with her standing on the podium with the gold medal in her hand.
Brittany has always loved to cook but enjoys working with the public more. Up until she attended Assiniboine Community College, the only serving experience she had was serving ice cream during the summers at Clear Lake. Rather than study culinary arts and be confined to the kitchen, the Brandon native chose to pursue a career in hotel and restaurant management so she can work the front lines.
According to Zalluski, Brittany’s performance at the World’s came from the confidence of having won prior competitions. During her time at school, she competed in four restaurant service competitions (two MB Skills and two Skills Canada). She won provincial gold in both her first and second year. Brittany represented Manitoba in Quebec City in 2011, where she placed fourth. She had the opportunity to again represent Manitoba in Edmonton at Skills Canada in June 2012, where she won bronze. Because of her competition experience, Brittany was chosen by Skills Canada to participate in the World Skills Americas competition. Zalluski said her experience was the number-one advantage she had against her fellow competitors from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Panama, Brazil and the United States.
As part of the competition, the students are given 10 wines to examine in the morning. They are required to identify eight of the 10 correctly later in the afternoon and are scored accordingly. Brittany has developed a passion for learning about the spirits and plans to further her knowledge and become a sommelier.
“I am really interested in the alcohol side of the industry and want to enhance my beer and wine skills to learn how to pair them with food,” she says of her passion. “Eventually, I would like to be given a bottle of wine and be able to identify it by the region, vintage and year.”
With plans of one day opening her own business, Brittany said the skills competition wins have given her the confidence of knowing she can excel anywhere in her chosen field. Currently she is working as a supervisor at Lady of the Lake shop, café and pub in Brandon.